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In America, opportunity cost is the lives of children

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Erin Albanese, associate managing editor and reporter for School News Network and mother of two students in Wyoming Public Schools. SNN welcomes reader responses and alternative commentary.

Earlier this week, I was interviewing second-graders about what they thought about when they worked together to design a T-shirt that represents their school as part of an economics unit. In brainstorming the shirts’ message, they considered what their school means to them and what they wanted others to know about their school.

“We are a family,” said one little girl.

“The whole school is a family,” a boy echoed.

Other answers included:

“People here have different skin colors.”

“We are proud of ourselves.”

I was in the school that my own kids went to for their elementary years. They very well may have sat in the exact same seats as these beautiful children, feeling so safe with friends and teachers who are like family to them. This place is a place where they can thrive. These 7-year-olds already knew about big topics like specialization, opportunity cost, natural and human resources and capital.

Yet, here we are again as a country, as a society, where opportunity cost is the lives of children. The almighty gun continues to be prioritized over the human collateral – no matter how young and innocent — that it results in, and it all boils down to money and profits over lives. That’s a lesson in economics that is very hard to accept and I pray that these children one day learn something different can be true.

Yet, I’ve honestly lost hope that anything will be done. We know the drill. Mass shooting. Call for change and action. Second Amendment debates. Political divisiveness… then nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I’ve also learned that posting things on social media only draws support from people who agree with a perspective and solidifies the opposing view even more, and I’m not writing this to be part of all that noise.

But I do believe in the power of voices, and those second-graders’ words keep coming back to me, sweet, safe in their classrooms, hopefully unaware of a threat incomprehensible even to people much older to them. That does motivate me to speak. I want them to feel that sense of safety and family wherever they go. I want them to be able to learn that there’s power in love, learning and togetherness much more than being armed or in supporting an industry that cavalierly disregards the cost of their very lives.

In creating their T-shirt the children voted on a final design. It is of diverse students standing above the words, “Everyone Matters.”

They know this to be true as second-graders. They attached this statement to a lesson on economics. They believe it with a sense of hope and love, and that’s what they want the world to know about them.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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